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YorkTalks 2020: Are LGBT+ networks inside the NHS breaking the mould?

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People think that having LGBT networks is a good thing and that they promote equality and diversity in the workplace But what is the evidence base for this claim, really? In short, it's limited

Our research at York into lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender employee networks within the NHS is about to change this We were generously supported by the Economic and Social Research Council to carry out research in partnership with NHS employers, Stonewall, and eni [Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion] consultancy With two comprehensive data sets in-house, we are now in the position that we have a much better understanding of networks, how they operate, who is involved, what support formats are available to these networks, and most importantly, the impact of these networks for the members themselves, wider LGBT communities, and the organisations themselves You have the project website in front of you now I think

There it is And please visit it for more information about the project and the research team The website will also host a research report which will be published in April And you can download it from there And if you want to stay tuned to any of the activities that are upcoming, please do use this website

So of all the organisations that we could have chosen to work with, why did we actually choose the NHS? Firstly, it's the largest employer in the UK with the biggest pool of LGBT employees The NHS also has sufficient number of LGBT networks for us to do a comparison between organisations, which was absolute needed for this study Then, of course, we have the Equality Act, which many of you know And that act places additional duties on public sector organisations to integrate equality and good relations in everyday business As a research team, we were really interested in what role LGBT employee networks play in this, and equally, how they may have embedded these principles in their everyday operations

The project is interdisciplinary in its nature, drawing together scholars from management, economics, and social policy research unit So it's quite a large team behind this To build our evidence base, we have worked with nine LGBT networks across England, Scotland, and Wales, and different types of trusts And this is quite important, because we really wanted to capture the diversity of organisations that exist So we were working with one community health service trust, three mental health trusts, two acute teaching hospital trusts, one service provider, an ambulance trust, and a health board, too

So over the course of two years, what we did was this We took part in meetings and other network activities and interviewed network members, equality diverse and inclusion leaders in these organisations, as well as chief executive officers In totals, this ended up to be 45 observations, and interviewed 63 individuals, too In addition to this, we conducted two online surveys in trusts located in England First, we targeted HR and equality and diversity and inclusion professionals

And this was to mark the environment that networks really operate it So what is the support environment like? We also collected workforce data and information on staff numbers from this survey The second survey targeted all NHS employees And it captured background information, trust and occupation, job characteristics and labor market experience, as well as information about staff networks We received over 4,000 responses to our survey

And that data set includes over 500 LGBT-identifying individuals, which is approximately about 12% of the whole sample Now, a lot of things are actually assumed about LGBT networks They're assumed to be a great place for visibility of the community and to give it a voice There is also the assumption that networks help to minimise discrimination and to increase inclusion Generally speaking, LGBT networks are seen as the right thing to do and a force of good

In part the research is assessing the assumptions out And one of the key questions that we really want to ask was, how diverse are these networks actually themselves? So what we found was quite unexpected, you'll see here LGBT+ network are seriously lacking in diversity Firstly, over 40% of members are gay men Representation of bisexuals is poor, just over 5%, as is representation of trans individuals, which is indicated with the pink bars in front of you

What we effectively have is network of cisgender gay men, lesbians, and heterosexuals, mostly allies With figures such as these, one would expect lively conversations at network meetings on membership and representation, of LGB and T individuals This did not generally happen Discussion on LGBT diversity and other forms of diversity were limited Instead, concerns were raised among members largely in terms of the size of the networks and so forth

Concerns were also raised about the barriers for frontline staff and clinical staff to attend network meetings Keith's account, which I show you in a minute, illustrates this well, and the difficulties people face when attending meetings when covers need to be arranged Keith mentions time pressure and the added travel time to get to meetings, bearing in mind that people engage in network activities on top of their normal job Then he talks about the stigma And goes on to say, if you are an occupational therapist, and where you're not comfortable about being out, for want of a better word, then how the hell are you going to explain that you're going to a meeting? A few words on LGBT networks meetings– we attended quite a few of these

It's fair to say the meetings are completely dominated by the agenda, leaving limited space for personal sharing or discussion around identities Typically, what you get is, at the start of the meeting, people will introduce themselves, but normally only by their name and professional role As a result, people did not know who is who, and no questions were asked either The sample agenda in front of you gives you an idea of what was covered in a single meeting, which usually lasted for two hours There were a large number of agenda items to cover, minutes to record and approve, an update log, and planning of events

For me, to gain legitimacy, networks have moved from being purely about supporting LGBT-identifying employees to staging events, education, and presenting the organisation as inclusive In fact, space for personal sharing and support was not factored in In practice, this meant that people waited for the meeting to be open for any other business to discuss issues that really matter to them This meant that most interesting discussion took place at a point where people were ready to leave anyway With no time left, the discussions were rushed and typically not picked up again, and when important issues were raised

So where do we go from here? I would like to put forward two simple suggestions One– and this is a really crucial one– is to get to know your members I accept the inherent conflict between encouraging sharing of identities and respecting people's need to remain private However, it's by prioritising identities and openly discussing them that the status quo can be challenged and, subsequently, outreach program then developed to address underrepresentation of groups, because the networks just do not know who they are Equally, overrepresentation should be acknowledged and measures put in place to create a better balance

And then secondly, create space to share personal stories This is important for two reasons First, it enables people to get to know each other and to build mutual support And then it provides vital information about the context where the network will operate in So then to return back to the opening statements, "Yet another meeting– are LGBT breaking the mould?" The answer to that is, probably not

Meetings prevent some people from attending, as we've seen They're quite exclusionary They also are not spaces to invite sharing of personal experiences And I'll finish on this Our funders have generously supported us to turn the research findings into theater and to deliver a total of 15 performances in organisation on demand in collaboration with a production company LittleMighty

The play, which incidentally is called Any Other Business– which the real thing actually did happen– is written by Adam Robertson and directed by Chloe Christian, who you see there It will feature at York Festival this summer, so please look out for it when the program is released Any Other Business, it tells the story of Natasha, a lesbian assistant and media officer at a health trust And the LGBT employee network is called Voice As the incoming chair of Voice, Natasha faces some fundamental questions about the purpose of the network, issues around inclusion, and where the network's heading

The play really allows us to stage complex and often contradictory ideas on inclusion, voice, and visibility that are essential to gaining insight into LGBT employee networks It also helps to showcase the intangible, including the monotony and boredom associated with meetings And we did feel like that a lot as a research team [LAUGHTER] And I'm sure that those who were present, too, felt it too So what I can tell you is this, is that the play will not present answers

It will not give you the answer to all the issues that LGBT networks are faced with But it will certainly make you think And on that note, I'll thank you [APPLAUSE]

Source: Youtube

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